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Sermon Preparation

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During the (Southern-Hemisphere) Summer Holidays I spotted something: online, a number of Anglican clergy, when talking about their holiday, they delighted especially in not having to prepare the sermon. What was noticeable is that, in general, Roman Catholic clergy don’t talk publicly about sermon preparation – nor focus on the absence of this as something to rejoice in during their holidays.

Other denominations may like to chip in with your insights. Is sermon preparation a chore? Do you discuss sermon preparation with others? Online? Do you see such discussion, online? Is part of relaxing, being on holiday, not having to prepare a sermon?

I think there are several things going on.

For Anglican clergy, the sermon – and, concomitantly, sermon preparation – may be a BIG deal. The rule of thumb, an hour of preparation for a minute of preaching, may mean a day or even most of two days a week is devoted to preparing Sunday’s sermon. And the Anglican parish may be fully understanding of that, quite happy that the Vicar/Rector is at their home office for a day or two each week preparing the Sunday sermon. A significant proportion of Anglican clergy training is devoted to preparing the sermon – biblical studies, including original languages, etc. can form a large portion of the clerics formation.

Generally, Anglican clergy produce a full, printed text. This can also tip an Anglican sermon towards being like the presentation of an academic paper which is destined for a peer-reviewed journal. It would not be uncommon for someone to ask Anglican clergy for a copy of the printed sermon.

Roman Catholic clergy may put more weight onto a more “whole-life” approach. They are bound to a rule of the Daily Office, complete with reflections from throughout Church History. Presiding at the Mass daily, many would give a brief homily daily at every Eucharist – often doing so after a time of reflecting silence, more spontaneously as a thought arose, drawing on the life of reflection framed by the Daily Office. The Sunday Mass homily may have had a time during the week of prayerful reflection, of Lectio Divina, but there may not be a completely printed text of the homily. Even using the word “homily” rather than “sermon”, may highlight a difference in stress – including in the expectation of parishioners. [How, for example, would RC parishioners react if Father wasn’t available on Monday because it’s his day off, nor on Tuesday and Wednesday, because those days Father is preparing his Sunday homily?]

In January, I put my question online in a variety of places (for example, on facebook on twitter). On the Liturgy Facebook page, for example, about six thousand people read this question and there were 74 responses (which you can read there).

I had a fascinating e-conversation with a Roman Catholic professor of homiletics. He found my question thought-provoking. While he certainly discussed the content of a homily post-preaching, he couldn’t remember ever discussing homiletic preparation, either as a general topic or a specific instance, online.

In his experience, preaching preparation among Catholic priests and deacons is all over the place. He thought that the stereotype that Catholics are more focused on Sacrament than Word has a basis in truth and history, but he also thought that he has seen some shift. Certainly the spirituality of preaching promoted by Vatican II tried to correct that imbalance. One of his key lines in teaching homiletics is “The people of God deserve good homiletic preparation from you.” Catholic priests have the luxury of time (they don’t have family obligations) and they should use it to prepare good preaching. Like me, he liked the 1-hour-of-preparation-for-each-minute-of-preaching model, especially for young/new preachers, but that is merely a guideline. He knew from personal experience and anecdotal evidence that far too many place homily preparation far down on the priority list and many homilies are thrown together at the last minute.

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2 thoughts on “Sermon Preparation”

  1. Episcopal clergy here. Preparation in the US can be all over the place – some clergy prefer a simpler homily approach, others spend more time in reflection and research. In my own ministerial practice, i try to spend time earlier in the week to read the lessons and do a little research since I don’t know when I’ll have time available to sit down and write, and I don’t like last-minute writing.

    To answer the bigger question, while it is nice to have a break from sermon prep, I also enjoy it (most of the time). Parishioners are looking for wisdom, guidance, and teaching in Christ, and I get the opportunity to break open the Scriptures to help them.

    1. Thanks, Joseph. Yes – I’m like you; I prepare well in advance [that can come at a cost – Sunday’s service was cancelled as we went up a Covid Alert Level; and, no, we are not moving Lent 2 🙂 ]. I mostly enjoy preaching (I do a lot of it – usually three times a week, and generally to the same community); I also see it as a great privilege. Blessings.

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